For brands looking to enter the mobile space, the question of whether to develop a native app or create a mobile Web page is a hot topic. The pros and cons of each have been debated at length. However, a critical mass of consumers now engage with brands on their mobile devices, so companies need a simple and straightforward mobile strategy.
First things first
Before thinking about the technology you will use, you need to evaluate your business objectives, target audience and technical requirements. What do you want to accomplish with this app? Who is the demographic? Where will they be using the service? What additional value will the application need to offer the consumer? The bottom line is that each mobile interface nurtures a different relationship between consumers and brands.
Native apps foster intimacy
Native apps live on the user’s device, which means the icon is front and center every time they access their phone. By seeing the app on a daily basis, your customers develop a more intimate relationship with your brand.
Native apps are equipped to do certain things that mobile Web apps cannot do, such as accessing the camera, uploading images or movies, and integrating with hardware like NFC readers, which serves to produce a more robust offline experience.
There are also more integration and development tools that can support native apps, making them more customizable and providing a more interesting user interface than a mobile Web browser. A unique interface makes the user feel they have a more personalized interaction with your brand, as opposed to engaging with your brand on a generic Web browser.
Mobile Web is more flexible and findable
Native apps tend to provide faster and higher quality performance. This is clearly an advantage, but the downside is that they are much more expensive to develop -- particularly if you need to target both the iPhone and Android operating systems. Mobile Web apps, on the other hand, work on a common code base across platforms, making them more flexible and cost-effective.
Users not only need to search for a native app, they also need to download it. Also, mobile Web sites automatically update online, while native apps require users to take the initiative to download updates. Without the user’s active participation, the native app cannot even get off the ground, let alone remain up to date. Mobile apps require much less effort to access.
Moving toward multichannel
Your choice of app ultimately depends on your time frame and budget. There are cases when your goal is to promote a short-term campaign, rather than to nurture a long-term relationship with your customer. If you are running a simple campaign that will only run for a month or two, a Web app may work best, as it saves cost, time and resources and can be managed easily.
If you can afford to do so, the ideal solution would be to maintain both a native app and mobile Web site. This would allow you to maximize your potential reach. Most companies are not in a position to do this, so it is important to think carefully about which option to choose in order to avoid adopting a new technology that is not sustainable.
If you must choose one over the other, the general opinion of mobile strategists is to start with a mobile Web experience through a mobile-specific site or via responsive design. If you already have a corporate or brand site, it must display consistently across all channels.
The good news is that the mobile world is moving toward a multichannel approach. With HTML5, CSS3 and other new technologies, updated browsers will approximate the experience of a native app. Developers are beginning to build native and Web apps in ways that leverage the same back-end resources for content and functionality, but customize the user experience based on the context of the user and the type of device on which they are accessing it. It is now possible to provide mobile Web users with contextual search results and other useful features like customized offers. All of this should begin to narrow the divide between the world of mobile Web and native apps.